ATLANTA -- Tennessee battled all afternoon, but top-ranked Florida came away with a 56-49 victory over the Vols in the semifinals of the SEC tournament on Saturday.
The Gators (31-2) extended their winning streak to 25 games and will play in the title game against the Georgia-Kentucky winner on Sunday.
The Vols are now 21-12 and will await their postseason fate on Sunday.
The Vols All-SEC performers Jordan McRae (15 points), Jarnell Stokes (13 points) combined for 28 points. Senior Jeronne Maymon added 10 points and nine rebounds before fouling out on a technical foul with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
Florida was led by Patric Young (16 points and eight rebounds) and SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin (14 points). Casey Prather added 12 points.
Tennessee led for much of the afternoon, including nearly 20 minutes spanning the two halves. But once the game tightened up in the second half, it was back and forth. The Gators continued to counter the Vols throughout the final 20 minutes.
After Tennessee re-built a five-point lead at 43-38, Florida answered with seven consecutive points. Frazier punctuated the spurt on his first 3-pointer of the game with nine minutes left, putting Florida up 45-43.
The Vols were held scoreless for more than seven minutes before Stokes made two free throws with 4:57 left to tie the game at 45. Florida would score 11 of the final 15 points.
A personal foul and technical foul were called on Maymon fouling him out of the game with 4:39 left. Frazier and Young made four foul shots and put Florida up by four, 49-45.
Down 51-49 with 1:21 left, the Vols' Antonio Barton was called for a flagrant foul. Prather made both free throws and the Gators retained possession with a 53-49 lead.
Tennessee didn't score for the game's final 2:48.
The Vols shot just 25 percent in the second half (5-of-20) and were outscored 28-14 over the final 20 minutes.
Florida took its first lead (38-37) since the game's opening minutes on a Casey Hill layup with 14:49 left in the game, to cap a 13-2 spurt for Florida.
Tennessee quickly responded to regain a 41-38 edge on a pair of layups by Maymon and McRae with 13 minutes left. Down by double-figures in a game for just the second time this season, Florida bridged the halves with a 7-0 run to cut Tennessee's lead to three, 35-32 early in the second half.
Tennessee led for the final 13:31 of the first half and held a 35-28 advantage at halftime. It was just the eighth time this season Florida trailed at intermission with two coming against the Vols. McRae led the Vols with 10 points. Wilbekin topped all scorers with 13.
Both teams shot better than 53 percent in the first half (Florida 54.5 and Tennessee 53.8) with the Vols owned the boards, 14-10 as Maymon corralled six.
The Vols used an 14-4 run to take a 19-13 lead on a Derek Reese 3-pointer with 11 minutes left in the first half. Seven different players scored during the spurt. Maymon put the Vols up by seven on a jumper with 10:27 left in the first half, 21-14.
Later in the half, the Vols scored consecutive points to lead by 10, 33-23 after Maymon knocked two free throws with 2:06 left in the half.
Wilbekin canned a 3-pointer with seconds left to cut the Gators' deficit to seven.
Florida scored the game's first basket ended a five-game span where Tennessee did not trail for 200 consecutive minutes with five consecutive wire-to-wire wins.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student athletes.
COACH MARTIN: Hard fought game. Both teams I thought really competed at a high level. Both teams defended well. Just came down the stretch of making plays. We had a couple costly technical fouls, but just down to making plays down the stretch of the game.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for the student athletes.
Q. Jarnell, you guys have played number one Florida really close the last two games. Even though you didn't win today, do you feel like you made a statement in terms of the NCAA tournament to come?
Jarnell Stokes: I feel like the statement was already made before coming into this game. I really wanted this win. I felt we were right there, just didn't make plays down the stretch like we usually do.
Q. For both players, talk about the last four minutes of the game and all the monitors and all the controversial calls that were going on.
Jarnell Stokes: I don't want to complain. I feel like Florida made some big plays. They have a great team. They're the number one team in the country.
So there was some calls I didn't like, but that's part of it. I'm just a player and I let the referees do their job.
They played well down the stretch. Hit big free throws.
Jordan McRae: Just the same thing Jarnell said. They hit free throws at the end and they made plays and that's pretty much it in the last four minutes.
Q. Jordan, you all scored 14 points in the second half. What made their defense so good or was it that y'all were just not executing what were you supposed to be doing?
Jordan McRae: No, I think we had many some shots that we normally make. Today they didn't fall. But I don't think they did anything different than they did in the first half.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll excuse you to the locker room and take questions for coach.
Q. Can you talk about, first of all, what you were told Maymon and then the flagrant foul obviously. Then, of course, the other time they had to look at the monitor for the elbow.
COACH MARTIN: Wasn't really told anything Maymon. They called a technical foul. I watched his body language. He didn't use any curse words, swear, whatever you want to call it. He didn't do any of that. Maybe his tone or maybe his approach and his body language caused him to get the technical.
But I watched his lips closely, so there wasn't anything derogatory that was said.
Q. I know you wanted to win the tournament, but do you take something positive out of this from the fact that you played the best team in the country right down to the wire for a second time?
COACH MARTIN: Yes, they're a very talented team. They're really one of the reasons our defense has really improved. We talk about defending at a high level all the time, playing hard, competing. They have a group of guys that understand their roles and they want to be successful as a team, and in my opinion, they're the best defensive team in the country.
I've seen a lot of teams and watched teams, but they're probably the best in the country because they close the gaps, bigs do great job defending, they're physical, they play without fouling, they pressure you.
Our guys, we feel like we came into the game ready to win the game. Just came up short. The two best defensive teams in the league, and they made the plays down the stretch. We talked about it before the game, the team that makes the plays down the stretch, unfortunately for us some costly technical fouls probably shifted the game.
Q. How fluid is Florida's ball movement on offense? It seems like that ball never really sticks with one player, especially with Wilbekin?
COACH MARTIN: They do a good job moving the ball, keeping their spacing. Obviously it starts with Wilbekin. In my opinion, I take him over any point guard in America outside of my own. But just does a great job of running this team, directing traffic. But he does it on both ends of the floor.
I think that they're a selfless team from the stand point of everybody gets involved. You have a shot, take advantage of it. When you have that you have a chance to be very successful.
Q. You guys held Frazier without a basket until about 14 minutes of the second half, what do you credit that to?
COACH MARTIN: Really just defending at the level you defend at. But you're talking about a talented team. Two teams that can score the ball, so it's hard to stop one guy. You have to be really locked in because they have so many moving parts. They have a point guard that can play. They have guys that can shoot the ball. Bigs that score around the rim. Guys that slash to the basket. So your defense have to be really locked in.
Just really give the credit to Jordan McRae really accepting that challenge, closing out aggressively. Every time he catches the ball, forcing them to make plays off the dribble.
Q. Florida is now 20-0 in conference if you include this tournament. Does that mark speak anything to you?
COACH MARTIN: Just a very talented team. I think that's what it says. They're playing well. They're the best team in the country. But they're playing well as a team. I think that's the biggest key. It's just on to the next game, really.
Q. As a coach of a team playing Florida, I'm guessing your sitting over there thinking we need to make a shot here. But as a student of basketball and a basketball professional, when you look at a team like Florida that held a team like yours to one basket over the final 12 minutes today, do you think that that's about as good as you can do?
COACH MARTIN: Oh, yeah. I'm a defensive guy, I love defense. So I applaud the way they really defend. I thought our guys have done a great job of stepping up and defending as well. You look at the final score, 56-49, two very talented teams. Two teams that defend well and again made the plays down the stretch to win the ball game. I think that some costly technical fouls shifted it down the stretch.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)